Excerpts from press conference with Kendall
(Editor's note: Below is an edited transcript of a press conference held on Wednesday, following the announcement that Professors Jerome I. Friedman and Henry W. Kendall PhD '55 would share the 1990 Nobel Prize in physics.
Also at the press conference were Professor Robert J. Bergeneau, head of the physics department, President Charles M. Vest, and Provost Mark S. Wrighton.)
Q: How did you first come about the discovery of quarks?
A: In this case, it was not a sudden event -- like Archimedes discovering the law of buoyancy in leaping out of his bathtub, shouting "eureka!" This slowly came out of the pattern of data that we had been accumulating since the late 1960s.
Q: What was the experiment designed for?
A: The experiment was specifically designed to illuminate the internal structure of the neutron and proton. You see, the accelerator itself is a huge device, two miles long, and it was designed to carry out studies of this sort. So there was no question about the objective, which was to see what was way, way, way down inside the atomic nucleus. But the particular results we got were unexpected.
Q: Why do you think it's taken 20 years to recognize this?
A: Well, I'm not familiar with the inner workings of the Swedish Academy of Science, so I really don't know, except that, as I said, the whole hard interpretation took a long time to develop and I can say that probably reflects part of it.
Q: Dr. Kendall, isn't it true that it's impossible to see an individual quark?
A: Yes, that represents an aspect (awdmentwhat in the hell is this? I suggest "feature") ofthe nature of these very small systems. We had accumulated absolutely unmistakable evidence -- which is now not doubted at all -- that the principal constituents of the neutron and proton were physical quarks. On the other hand, we did not try, but attempts were made, to actually produce these quarks so that you could see them as isolated entities in the laboratory. Those numerous attempts -- in laboratories around the world -- failed. It is now believed to be a fundamental property of these things, that they cannot be made manifest so that you can see them as if you've seen an electron or as you can see a neutron or proton.
Q: Can you give a simple definition of a quark? And also, were there more than one kind of quark detected?
A: I want to emphasize that we did not identify a specific type of quark. Some more quarks have been devised since the originals at the time of our experiments. There are two that in different combinations make up the neutron and the proton, but we did not observe them in the most direct form. We observed them by quite clear unambiguous evidence out of the data that we took.
Birgeneau: I wonder if I can interrupt briefly. The timing of this happened to be propitious. On Oct. 15, [Charles M. Vest] came from Michigan to be the new president of MIT, and we have a chance to remind him why MIT in general -- and physics at MIT in particular -- are such great institutions. And Chuck has just named my good friend and former fellow department head Mark S. Wrighton as provost, which is basically chief operating officer of the university, so we welcome him.
Q: What was the award that you received last year, the Panofsky prize?
A: Yes, we were awarded the Panofsky prize in experimental physics by the American Physical Society. That was for this same work.
Q: Will this honor help you in any way in your work in terms of credibility or money?
A: Well, I would hope so. And I would hope that it would also help MIT, and in general, the problems that science and technology have in our country. This award, of course, is for work that was done by the two of us who are at MIT -- completely at MIT -- and with enormous support from the physics department here. It was done in what we have long referred to privately as a "golden age" when the federal government funded research, both basic and applied, in a quite unstinting way. There were not the problems of both research support and support for teaching of students that have been developing in much more severe forms in recent years.
Q: Do you think such an undertaking would be possible today?
A: Well, it's not easy to answer that question, simply because the scale of experiments has expanded a lot. Work that was done with the two-mile accelerator was on a scale which today would be relatively small. The high-energy physics community is looking toward a much larger accelerator in order to open up new fields of research. This is the Superconducting Supercollider in Texas. And I noted just a few days ago that the Senate and House Conference Committee cut 23 percent off the budget. So that's not a very good beginning. The signs are certainly troubling, but that's another area.
I would like to mention that one person who did not share in the prize directly but really who had a great role in it was W. K. H. Panofsky, who was the originator of the Stanford two-mile machine. It remains a great instrument of science.
Q: Can you tell me how the understanding of quarks has progressed in the twenty years since your work? How much more has been done?
A: Well, there's a great deal more known about the quark substructure. Other quarks have been identified. And it is now believed that the bulk of these nuclear constituents -- both the stable ones, and the enormous variety of unstable nuclear constituents that are made in these particle accelerators -- are all constructed out of combinations of quarks. So, that has come a long way.
The nuclear structure and substructure that form the quark has been fitted into a comprehensive theory which has now gained immense power in contributing to our understanding of these processes at a very deep level. And that was all largely unknown at the time, around 1970, when we did these measurements. So things have indeed come a long way. And in fields connected with this particular project, there have been a number of Nobel prizes awarded for subsequent developments of great importance. So, we have progressed a lot since the 1970s.
Q: What are you doing now?
A: Well, academically, I'm teaching. Although, I've fortunately gotten a relief this afternoon. I'm involved with a colleague here in the department in support of a proposal to build a very large detector at the Superconducting Supercollider -- which is on its way to being built, I hope, in Texas. And I and Jerome Friedman and other colleagues are also in a continuing research program at Stanford. We're still doing something at the two-mile machine after a gap of a good number of years. We're back in there doing something, looking for new phenomena.
I also, for those of you who may not be aware of it, have had a long-standing personal interest in the impact of science and technology on our society. Since 1975, I have been the chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists -- which has been looking at, and trying to ameliorate, some of the serious side effects that technology has had when it has occasionally been misapplied in our society and in the world at large. I have been a participant in the controversies over nuclear reactor safety, a number of strategic weapon systems, the threat of nuclear war, and more recently, getting some grip on the greenhouse effect. That has taken up a number of weekends and evenings over many years.
Birgeneau: I'd like to make a general comment that I hope all of you will report. Obviously, we're ecstatic over this Nobel prize here at MIT. But, we're ecstatic not just because it honors a great intellectual accomplishment, but because both Jerry and Henry are outstanding as human beings, and they provide good examples that you can both be a great scientist and a great humanist as well. They are outstanding teachers, they have a commitment to increasing the number of minorities in physics. Henry has played a leading role in a variety of social causes. It is possible to be a real human being and a great scientist simultaneously. I know that the scientists at the Swedish Academy have done the community as a whole a great service by honoring these two people.
[Unidentified]: President Vest wishes to make some brief remarks at the close.
Vest: Probably there's nothing more obnoxious than the administrators horning in on such a remarkable event, but I couldn't resist.
Professor Friedman and Kendall have brought great distinction both to themselves and to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I'm very pleased to be able to join today in celebrating their accomplishments. I bring congratulation to them on behalf of all of their MIT colleagues.
Their careers and accomplishments remind us all of the great importance of research universities such as MIT to our nation and the world. Our government, industry, and citizens must exhibit good stewardship and enthusiastic support of the institutions that enable such great scientists and scholars to continue the critical mission of increasing our understanding of the world around us, perpetuating our sense of wonder at the inner workings and beauty of nature. Finally, I share the hope with Professor Kendall that this recognition of the accomplishments of Professors Friedman and Kendall will inspire our nation's children and young men and women to join them in pursuing careers in science, engineering, and mathematics. Congratulations!